“One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern” is a 2005 political documentary directed by Stephen Vittoria. The film examines the political career of Senator George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic Party nominee for President. By taking advantage of the new Presidential primary system established in 1971, McGovern was able to defeat rival candidates and successfully claim the Democratic nomination despite the lack of support from the Democratic party establishment. Over the course of the campaign, McGovern campaigned on the principles of equality and justice and as an opponent of the Vietnam War. Despite his campaign platform and policy positions, McGovern was defeated by President Richard Nixon by a landslide margin. Additionally, the film highlights the conflict in American politics between honesty and integrity and dishonesty and deceit and how such conflicting values were apparent in the 1972 Presidential campaign. Throughout the course of the film, several concepts of political communication are showcased and help to explain the political campaign of George McGovern.
To communicate his campaign message and gain an advantage in the new primary system, George McGovern utilized a grassroots campaign style. McGovern used political organizing at the grassroots level throughout the course of his political career. For example, McGovern’s elections to the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1956 and 1962 respectively and his successes in rebuilding the Democratic party in South Dakota during the 1950s can be credited to his strength in utilizing grassroots campaigning to appeal directly to supporters. McGovern carried over his grassroots campaign style to his 1972 Presidential campaign by relying on retail politics to gain support for his candidacy, bypassing the traditional media sources, and by creating a diverse coalition of supporters. Additionally, McGovern campaigned as a political outsider who was not beholden to the Democratic party establishment. Through his campaigning as an outsider, McGovern further gained a level of support over rival candidates for the Democratic nomination. McGovern’s efforts in campaigning in a grassroots manner and positioning himself as a political outsider allowed him to win the Democratic primary and appeal to voters who wanted change in American politics.
Another way in which George McGovern communicated his message was through his adoption of different campaign styles. For example, McGovern took an offensive position on the issues such as the Vietnam War and the domestic policies of the Nixon administration. By taking an offensive position on the issues, McGovern forced President Richard Nixon to go on the defensive to explain his record on such matters. Additionally, McGovern campaigned as a candidate who would offer a clear contrast to the status quo and emphasized an optimistic vision for the future of the US. Through his emphasis on the need for change, McGovern sought to appeal to voters who were critical of the policies of the Nixon administration and created the perception that he was the candidate who would lead the US down a better path.
In conclusion, “One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern” presents an in-depth view of the political career of Senator George McGovern and the 1972 Presidential campaign. Over the course of the film, McGovern utilized several different forms of political communication including grassroots campaigning, framing himself as an outsider candidate, taking an offensive position on the issues, and emphasizing the need for change in politics. The exploration of the different communication methods used by the McGovern campaign serves as a way to inform political scientists about the 1972 Presidential campaign and explain the rationale behind McGovern’s candidacy.